VERONA, NJ - Verona advanced to the semi-finals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1 Group 1 state tournament after shutting out Hasbrouck Heights 19-0 on Saturday afternoon. The Hillbillies passed the first of a three step process towards another undefeated state championship with flying colors.
Early in the game, Verona got right to business with a forced fumble and recovery by Sam Cummings that set the Hillbillies up on Hasbrouck Heights’ 14-yard line. Verona took advantage of this field position with an 8-yard touchdown run by Zack Zaccone putting them up 7-0 in the first three minutes of the football game.
“If you take care of business, the fumbles just come,” said Cummings. “He fumbles it, guys just pay attention, get there, and recover it. We just do our jobs.”
Cummings also made a big impact on the next drive with a sack in Verona territory that all but killed Hasbrouck Heights’ momentum to tie the game. This led to a Hasbrouck Heights punt that ended up being a touchback.
From that point on, it became the Mark Riggio show with several nice runs (132 rushing yards for the game) to set up a 3-yard touchdown run that put Verona up 13-0. If that was not enough, Riggio also had an interception on the next drive that set the Hillbillies up on Hasbrouck Heights’ 3-yard line.
“I saw a guy going to flat, I dropped to my zone, and did what I needed to do,” noted Riggio on the interception.
Riggio capped that off with a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 19-0 just two minutes into the second quarter. Despite his big day with 132 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, he still gave all the glory to his teammates.
“I don’t look at it as an individual game,” said Riggio. “I do it for my teammates, my lineman and receivers blocking for me every single play doing what they need to do. That’s why we succeeded.”
Verona went on to win the game 19-0 in an uneventful second half. It was the lowest amount of points they have scored all season, but the Hillbillies will not complain about a shutout in the playoffs.
“We were well prepared for them and while they have some talent, I just think we wore them down and were able to get the victory,” said Verona Head Coach Lou Racioppe. “We played conservatively. We didn’t want to take too many chances and I wish we finished another drive or two, but we got the job done.”
Going into this playoff game, Verona finished the regular season finale with a bang, getting a big win over rival Cedar Grove. While their eyes were on Hasbrouck Heights, there was motivation to play harder.
“We wanted to go harder,” added Cummings. “The Cedar Grove game was great, but I wanted to go harder and give more intensity.”
The Hillbillies are just two games away from repeating as undefeated state champions and believe they have what it takes to make another run.
“We’re playing like champions,” said Riggio. “We’re playing as hard as we can and we’ll see where that brings us.”
“Our guys are not going to be denied,” added Racioppe. “I think we’re going to make a run at it again.”
Before they have a chance to defend their state title at Metlife Stadium, Verona has a date at home with Cresskill after they upset top-seeded Park Ridge 35-34 in overtime.
“It’s always big to be playing at home,” said Racioppe. “But, this Cresskill team is coming off of a really big win. We’ve beaten them the last two years in the playoffs so I’m sure that they’ll be well-motivated to play us.”
Verona will look to punch their ticket to Metlife Stadium against Cresskill at home next Saturday afternoon.